COLUMN: International players are taking over the NBA

Stoll: The pool of foreign talent is only getting deeper


Paul Beaty | Associated Press

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) goes up to shoot against Chicago Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Sunday in Chicago. Jokic is the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Players after winning the award for the past two seasons. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

By Michael Stoll, Sports Reporter

Editor’s note: Michael Stoll is a junior journalism and communications double major and serves as a sports reporter at the Northern Star. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Star. This is an opinion piece.

American players have dominated the game of basketball on the global stage for nearly a century. However, that fact is about to become fully inverted on its head, as global players are now dominating basketball on the American stage.

Since 1936, USA Olympic Basketball has brought home the gold medal in 16 of the 20 competitions. There’s no denying that the pool of American talent in hoops is incredibly deep and only seems to be growing deeper. Yet in the NBA, the premier basketball league rooted in the U.S., the talent at the top seems to be changing direction.

In the past four years, two different foreign players have utterly dominated the league en route to being crowned MVP. Nikola Jokić of Serbia and Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece have each taken home the most-coveted individual accolade in back-to-back fashion.

Add in Luka Dončić of Slovenia and Joel Embiid of Cameroon, who each have placed in the top six in votes for MVP in the past three years, according to Basketball Reference.

The top talent is continuing to pour into the league too. Victor Wembanyama of France, who stands at seven feet, six inches, and has showcased the handles and shooting stroke of a guard, is projected across the boards to be drafted first overall in the coming draft.

So, maybe there’s a rare flux of top talent from outside the borders right now. Does that translate elsewhere in the pools of star and role players the sport? Well, according to the NBA, this season’s opening-night rosters boasted 120 different international players from 40 countries. Compare that to just the 1999-2000 season, where only 35 international players could be found on rosters.

The turn to foreign talent even applies in other leagues. Look no further than men’s basketball at NIU, who currently play Oluwasegun Durosinmi of Nigeria, Yanic Konan Niederhauser of Switzerland and Armandas Plintauskas of Lithuania. All three are young and exciting new additions to the team and bring in experience from international play.

The influx of international talent has shown its fingerprints in the way the game is played too. One quick watch of modern basketball and you’ll notice much more small-ball spacing, pacing and passing than from what you’d see even just 10 years ago. This style of play is abundant in the leagues overseas.

The days of foreign players being questioned and booed on draft night and recruitment pressers are more than likely coming to an end. Talent outside the U.S. might just be catching up fast and looking to take over.